This series of paintings depicts the often-contrasting emotions of hope and uncertainty, terror and resolution, pride and humility. Water is a thematic thread running throughout all three paintings. Throughout Biblical texts water is used as a symbol of nourishment and purification (take the woman at the well), but also of judgment (the flood). This series pauses over moments in the nadir of Moses and Noah’s stories, before their resolution. The passages highlighted in each painting remind us that these prophets’ purposes was greater than themselves; that hope is just on the other side of judgment.
A. Moses Strikes the Rock:
This painting depicts the event of Moses striking the rock—a moment of frustration and anger at God and at the Israelites, with whom he has trekked for many years throughout the desert. Moses, exhausted by his peoples’ lack of faith, decides to display his position of leadership with a dramatic demonstration of power. As he hits the rock, water miraculously gushes out. Water overwhelms the composition of the picture, reminding Moses that his position of leadership was not earned, but appointed. The sun sets, signifying the end of Moses’ journey to the promised land.
This piece has a different technical narrative than, for example, Isaiah; the paint is applied in Moses so that it appears wet. This was accomplished in part by utilizing more brushwork than in other paintings in the series. In this way, the mark-making on the surface reflects the fluidity of the subject.
B. The Flood:
The Flood, as told in Genesis, enveloped the Earth so long ago that it is easy to forget the incredible horror of the actual event. This scene lingers over a terrifying stage of The Flood; it has rained long enough that all remnants of Earth have been swallowed up in an angry sea. And yet—the sun emerges forcefully out of the black sky, touching the tops of the waves with light. The strength of The Flood’s waves signal no end in sight, but the sun inserts a suggestion of a more hopeful ending.
Areas of visual rest are scarce, emphasizing the energy and uneasiness of the subject matter. Traditionally, the foreground of the painting includes the most detail and texture, the brushwork becoming softer into the background to create a sense of atmospheric perspective. Instead, in this painting rough impasto (those areas of raised, scraped paint) and scumbling (soft layering of color) create a disorienting lattice of texture over the entire canvas. Almost every part of the composition includes texture that brings the paint to the forefront of the canvas.
C. Jonah Drowning:
This painting depicts Jonah in the transition that is often skipped between his fleeing from God on a boat and in the belly of the whale. Jonah, Convinced that these are his last moments alive, descends into the darkness of deeper sea. This painting asks the viewer to linger in the despair of loneliness and the acceptance of fate.
The areas of light and dark contrast what is happening and what is to come. In the bottom half of the painting, Jonah’s hand extends into the shadow of water that is beginning to be so deep that it eludes light’s reach—a harbinger of a sad ending. However, emanating from the top of the composition and behind Jonah is a soft and bubbly light that complicates a straightforward tale of despair.
Written by Brie Stoltzfus